Ordinary Witnesses

Ordinary Witnesses

Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3. 12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3. 1-7; Luke 24. 36b-48 (view all)

One of the most exciting pieces of news I’ve ever had to share was the birth of our daughter, Evie. I don’t know whether you know this, but Evie is her nickname — her full name is Evangeline, which comes from the Greek word in the bible for ‘good news’. We wanted the world to know that she is good news, and our prayer is that as she grows up, she will grow to be good news to those around her as well.

But of course, our good news was quite simple, in today’s world, to share. After a couple of phone calls to close family, we put a photo of her up on Facebook, and the whole world  was able to know what had happened.

For Jesus and his disciples, it wasn’t quite that simple. They didn’t have the wonders of modern technology, so there had to be another way of sharing the good news. And in our gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells his disciples that other way is them. They are to be his witnesses.

What might it mean for us to be God’s witnesses in our lives today? 

Well, today’s account from Luke is pretty bizarre. The disciples are huddled privately in the upper room, and then suddenly Jesus is there. Someone the disciples saw die with their own eyes, appears among them and says, ‘Peace be with you’.

They don’t know whether they’ve a ghost, or whether this is a vision or apparition. So Jesus invites them to touch him, to see his hands and his feet, still bearing the scars of the crucifixion. He is really there, in flesh and blood. He isn’t a ghost or a spirit, and he eats in front of them, proving he really has physically come back to life.

And once their shock has worn off, Jesus begins to explain what has happened. He uses the scriptures to explain why it was he needed to die, and why it was that, if they’d been looking carefully, they would have seen that he was going to come back to life. Then, crucially, he tells them what will happen next, and the part they will play in it: 

Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [Jesus’] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

It is interesting that in Luke’s account, they aren’t given an instruction or a command, unlike Matthew’s great commission. They aren’t offered a job that they could accept or refuse. Instead, Jesus makes a short, simple statement:

You are my witnesses.

They have no option — they can’t un-see what they’ve now seen — and so the completely natural, logical next step, having experienced the presence of the risen Jesus among them, is that they should witness to what they’ve seen. 

And this is exactly what Peter does in our Acts reading. He attests to what he has seen with his own eyes when he witnessed Jesus’ death and his resurrection, and explains what this means for those present, in the hope that they too might find healing and grace through what Jesus has done. 

What about us as disciples of Jesus today? Well we haven’t seen what Jesus’ disciples saw two thousand years ago, but we may well have experienced the living, risen presence of Jesus in our lives today. 

It may have been in something as surprising profound as a miraculous answer to prayer, healing or a vision. Or for many of us, it may simply have been in a sense of God’s peace in a difficult time, or a sense of God speaking through the words of someone else close to us offering comfort or support.

Whether profound or mundane, my hope is that all of us are here because of some sense of Jesus being present with us, and at work in our lives today. And although it may well not be appropriate to find the nearest crowded place and start preaching like Peter, we can all be witnesses to God’s work in our lives, ‘ordinary witnesses’ if you like. We do this through the way we live, the choices we make, and the answers we give when those we know ask about our faith. 

So I wonder, will we take heart from the presence of the risen Jesus with us in our lives, strengthening us and sustaining us? Will we commit afresh to be his witnesses in the way we speak and act, whether with our families, our friends and neighbours, or at work?

Will we have the confidence to speak words of life, hope and peace, in a world often full of death, despair and conflict? A world that so desperately needs the risen Jesus.

Another of my favourite theologians is John V. Taylor, who was Bishop of Winchester and General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society. He writes this:

…every time Christ is made more real to someone else through my presence or through my words, he is made more real to me. And whenever hands are stretched out in my company to receive the grace of the Lord Jesus, what a fool I am if my hands are not stretched out too!
Go-between God, p. 139

It’s when we witness to Christ, that we find his presence made more real to us as well, and find ourselves growing in our own faith.

As we’ve experienced Jesus in our lives, may we also be his witnesses to those around us in word and deed.

Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained
by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.